Sunday, January 15, 2012

Infertility & Marriage

Yesterday, a family member sent me a question about this article, which claimed that the Catholic Church was planning to "ban the infertile people's right to marry," claiming that the Church thinks marriage and sex are "ONLY for procreation." She was rightfully incredulous that the Church would do such a thing. 


The article makes a couple of bad assumptions before the author even started writing: 1) The Catholic Church makes arbitrary decisions regarding marriage, so She can simply change at will what She considers a marriage. 2) That marriages can be "revoked." Neither of these are the case. The Church has a deep respect for marriage and She recognizes that it can neither be revoked nor changed. Sadly the article has over 1200 tweets and 7000 Facebook likes. (Who would like an article like this? I can understand someone sharing it, but who would actually like these statements? I digress.)


There were many couples in the Bible who were infertile, and only were made fertile by a miracle. The Church has never doubted the validity of these marriages because of their infertility.


My (slightly edited) response follows:


You're right. This article is bogus. It's a common misunderstanding, stemming from a very poor grasp of what the Church actually teaches. People have a tendency to read what they want to read into what the Church states, so there is a LOT of misinformation out there.

The Church has never stated that marriage and sex are ONLY about procreation. There never has been anything preventing infertile couples from getting married, and there never will be (see Canon Law 1084§3). The Church understands that the marital act is about 1) the procreation of children, 2) the rearing of any children who might come, AND 3) the deepening of the gift to each other that each spouse makes to the other of his or her entire self (the marital act is the greatest physical expression we can make of that gift of our entire selves to each other).

#3 is an absolute must, but it's inherent to the marital act, so it is taken for granted that people are giving themselves to each other. The only situation I can think of that this would not happen is if one spouse raped the other--this wouldn't be a gift of self to the other; rather, it would be a taking of the other person as an object. It's also possible, I guess, that a couple might use each other strictly for physical pleasure, and not give themselves to each other. Both of those would be sins, and it would obviously hurt their relationship, but they could still be married because they only need to give themselves to each other once to consummate the marriage.

To have a valid marriage the Church teaches that they have to be free to marry (i.e. not married to anyone else, be only 1 man/1 woman, not be a priest or anyone else who has made a permanent vow of celibacy, etc.--see the specific impediments to marriage). They have to publicly give themselves to each other (see consent) in whatever official manner is custom for them (if at least one is Catholic, it must occur within a Catholic wedding ceremony--see form), and they have to properly commit the marital act at least one time. If they have done that they have consummated the marriage and it cannot be taken away from them, no matter what sins they have committed with each other.

The Church teaches that, during each marital act, the couple has to be OPEN to #1-2, but it doesn't ever actually have to happen. Each time they make love, they must allow God to give them children, if He wants. The couple would only be sinning if they were to frustrate their marital acts from becoming fruitful (i.e. contraception, onanism, etc.). If, however, the couple discerned that they were not able to raise a child at that time, they could simply not commit the marital act on the few fertile days in the woman's cycle, and there would be no sin.

If procreation was what made marriages valid, then no marriage would be valid until the couple had conceived a child, which would make all marriages invalid at the beginning, so the couple would have to sin by sleeping with a person with whom they were not validly married so they could conceive a child in order to make their marriage valid. This is obviously not the case.

The only situation like this where people would actually be prevented from getting married is if they were physically incapable of consummating the marriage (Canon 1084§1). With today's great availability of medical advances, that condition is almost unheard of. Even if there is a doubt to the impotence of the couple, the marriage is still considered valid (Canon 1084§2). Even in that situation (this is just my guess here, nothing official), one MIGHT be able to get a dispensation for a Josephite marriage.

The Church has never stated that marriage and sex are ONLY about procreation. There never has been anything preventing infertile couples from getting married, and there never will be (see Canon Law 1084§3). The Church understands that the marital act is about 1) the procreation of children, 2) the rearing of any children who might come, AND 3) the deepening of the gift to each other that each spouse makes to the other of his or her entire self (the marital act is the greatest physical expression we can make of that gift of our entire selves to each other).
#3 is an absolute must, but it's inherent to the marital act, so it is taken for granted that people are giving themselves to each other. The only situation I can think of that this would not happen is if one spouse raped the other--this wouldn't be a gift of self to the other; rather, it would be a taking of the other person as an object. It's also possible, I guess, that a couple might use each other strictly for physical pleasure, and not give themselves to each other. Both of those would be sins, and it would obviously hurt their relationship, but they could still be married because they only need to give themselves to each other once to consummate the marriage.
To have a valid marriage the Church teaches that they have to be free to marry (i.e. not married to anyone else, be only 1 man/1 woman, not be a priest or anyone else who has made a permanent vow of celibacy, etc.--see the specific impediments to marriage). They have to publicly give themselves to each other (see consent) in whatever official manner is custom for them (if at least one is Catholic, it must occur within a Catholic wedding ceremony--see form), and they have to properly commit the marital act at least one time. If they have done that they have consummated the marriage and it cannot be taken away from them, no matter what sins they have committed with each other.
The Church teaches that, during each marital act, the couple has to be OPEN to #1-2, but it doesn't ever actually have to happen. Each time they make love, they must allow God to give them children, if He wants. The couple would only be sinning if they were to frustrate their marital acts from becoming fruitful (i.e. contraception, onanism, etc.). If, however, the couple discerned that they were not able to raise a child at that time, they could simply not commit the marital act on the few fertile days in the woman's cycle, and there would be no sin.
If procreation was what made marriages valid, then no marriage would be valid until the couple had conceived a child, which would make all marriages invalid at the beginning, so the couple would have to sin by sleeping with a person with whom they were not validly married so they could conceive a child in order to make their marriage valid. This is obviously not the case.
The only situation like this where people would actually be prevented from getting married is if they were physically incapable of consummating the marriage (see impotence: Canon 1084§1). With today's great availability of medical advances, that condition is almost unheard of. Even if there is a doubt to the impotence of the couple, the marriage is still considered valid (Canon 1084§2). Even in that situation (this is just my guess here, nothing official), one MIGHT be able to get a dispensation for a Josephite marriage.
Also, let's recognize that it is nearly impossible to distinguish between a couple who is infertile and a couple that simply hasn't had kids yet. There is no way that the Church could possibly make such determinations.

Fertility does not determine validity.

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